Scientology Losing Ground To New Fictionology

Onion_news3207_article According to a report released Monday by the American Institute of Religions, the Church of Scientology, once one of the fastest-growing religious organizations in the U.S., is steadily losing members to the much newer religion Fictionology.

“Unlike Scientology, which is based on empirically verifiable scientific tenets, Fictionology's central principles are essentially fairy tales with no connection to reality,” the AIR report read. “In short, Fictionology offers its followers a mythical belief system free from the cumbersome scientific method to which Scientology is hidebound.”

Created in 2003 by self-proclaimed messiah Bud Don Ellroy, Fictionology's principles were first outlined in the self-help paperback Imaginetics: The New Pipe-Dream Of Modern Mental Make-Believe.

Fictionology's central belief, that any imaginary construct can be incorporated into the church's ever-growing set of official doctrines, continues to gain popularity. Believers in Santa Claus, his elves, or the Tooth Fairy are permitted—even encouraged—to view them as deities. Even corporate mascots like the Kool-Aid Man are valid objects of Fictionological worship.

“My personal savior is Batman,” said Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Greg Jurgenson. “My wife chooses to follow the teachings of the Gilmore Girls. Of course, we are still beginners. Some advanced-level Fictionologists have total knowledge of every lifetime they have ever lived for the last 80 trillion years.”

More here.

Can We Talk About Religion, Please?

Randy Cohen in the New York Times Magazine:

ScreenHunter_03 Oct. 28 10.10 We do accord special status to religious groups, even writing it into our Constitution. Some actions that are generally forbidden are permitted if undertaken as a religious obligation: for instance, Sikh transit workers in New York may wear turbans. But not everything goes. Polygamy is outlawed. Nor would we allow human sacrifice, even if requested by a deeply observant Aztec. That is, we do not regard these things uncritically. And remember: it is not just religious practice but free expression that the Constitution protects. To muffle our discussion of religiously motivated acts is to dilute the discourse that is essential to democracy.

And so it is disheartening that the editorial pages of our most important newspapers did not castigate the Vatican’s invitation to misogyny and homophobia. Some blogs did so. Daily Kos headlined its coverage, “Vatican Welcomes Bigoted Anglicans.” But the discussion provided by, say, network news barely rose above the demure. That’s not courtesy; it’s cowardice. Perhaps the networks fear being charged with anti-Catholic bias. This is not an unreasonable concern. When I reproved that real estate agent, my surname was no shield against accusations of anti-Semitism. But surely it is possible to disagree respectfully. To criticize a particular practice of Orthodox Jews need not be anti-Semitism. To denounce this Vatican policy need not be anti-Catholic bigotry. Criticism is not contempt.

More here. [Thanks to Greg Segraves.]

ghosts at the window


I can’t stop watching the film clip of Anne Frank. Ever since the Anne Frank House museum posted it on their new Anne Frank YouTube channel a few weeks ago, I have watched it again and again. I must have watched it a hundred times. It is 20 seconds of shaky, black-and-white silence, in which Anne Frank appears at a window on a summer day in 1941. It is the only known film of Anne Frank. Only, it’s not a film about Anne Frank. At least not intentionally. The stars of the film are a newlywed couple, walking out of the house next door. The bride carries a huge bouquet of flowers and wears a modest skirt suit. She holds the arm of a lanky groom, who dons a top hat and tails. They smile. The street gathers to watch them, the windows in the surrounding buildings fill with onlookers. The film’s guest star is Merwedeplein, the street in Amsterdam where the Frank family lived before they went into hiding at 263 Prinsengracht — now known as the Secret Annex — the following summer of 1942. It’s a clear day on Merwedeplein and everything seems as it should: little girls hold their mothers’ hands, teenage boys ride bicycles, cars whiz past a nearby park. It’s a time when the Jews of Holland were only being deported in handfuls, and there’s no sign at all of a country living under occupation.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.

creationism islam style


Americans familiar with the long and bitter battle over the teaching of evolution in our schools likely have a set of images of what creationism looks like: from the Scopes trial, and its dramatization in “Inherit the Wind,” to more recent battles over textbooks on school boards in Kansas and Georgia and in federal court in Pennsylvania. The doctrine of creationism, and its less explicitly religious cousin intelligent design, are extensively developed counter-narratives of the origin of life on Earth, fed by Christian concerns and shaped by Christian beliefs. In its more extreme forms, creationist thought is guided by a faith in the inerrancy of the language of the Book of Genesis, so that some creationists see in the fossil record evidence that Noah must have herded dinosaurs onto his ark along with the rest of creation. But there is another creationist movement whose influence is growing, and which is fueling challenges to science in countries where Christianity has little sway: Islamic creationism. Campaigners in countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Indonesia have fought the teaching of evolution in schools there, sometimes with great success. Creationist conferences have been held in Pakistan, and moderate Islamic clerics are on record publicly condemning Darwin’s ideas. A recent study of Muslim university students in the Netherlands showed that most rejected evolution. And driven in part by a mysterious Turkish publishing organization, Islamic creationism books are hot sellers at bookstores throughout the Muslim world.

more from Drake Bennett at The Boston Globe here.

The Philosopher-Citizen

HabermasCharles Taylor on Jürgen Habermas:

Jürgen Habermas is known in the world of analytic philosophy primarily as a moral and political philosopher. He has striven against a slide which has often seemed plausible and tempting for modern thinkers, that towards a certain relativism or subjectivism in morals. The difficulty of establishing firm ethical conclusions in the midst of vigorous debate among rival doctrines, particularly when these disputes are contrasted to those among natural scientists can all too easily push us to the conclusion that there is no fact of the matter here, that ethical doctrines are not a matter of knowledge, but only of emotional reaction or subjective projection, that the issues here are not cognitive.

Habermas from the very beginning set his face against these non-cognitivist views. There can be ethical knowledge. But he wished also to break with a long-hallowed notion of what this knowledge must consist in, that which we find in the traditions which go back to Plato and Aristotle. According to these, ethical knowledge has for its object human nature, or the nature of things. In other words, it is grounded in some normative picture of what humans are like, or else of their place in the universe. According to Habermas, it was the discredit of these “metaphysical” views which gave colour to non-cognitivism in the first place. In order to refute subjectivism, morality needs another kind of rational basis.

The alternative route which he explored was that which makes the rationality of ethical conclusions a function of the rationality of the deliberation which produces them. A deliberation is rational if it meets certain formal requirements. This is, of course, the route which was pioneered by Kant. But Habermas made a revolutionary change in this tradition. Whereas for Kant the principal criterion of a rational and therefore defensible deliberation was that it was sought universalizable maxims, for Habermas the very notion of deliberation is transformed.

At the Edge of Perception

EdgePerception_FL Greg Boustead in Seed:

[Luke] Jerram creates sculptures, installations, soundscapes, and live arts projects that investigate the mysterious process of how we construct inner worlds from objective reality. His work is inspired by such disparate areas of research as biology, acoustic science, sleep research, ecology, and neural pathways.

An ongoing theme of Jerram’s work is the animation of otherwise hidden phenomenon. Exploring the Moon’s invisible pull in his installation “Tide,” Jerram rigged a gravity meter to three water-filled globes, turning data from the meter into a resonating chorus based on Kepler’s theories of “music of the spheres.” In “Retinal Memory Volume,” Jerram uses light to exploit viewers’ retinal afterimages to construct ephemeral ghost-like sculptures.

On a lark, Jerram started looking at little creatures through borrowed light microscopes and via raw images from electron microscopy. He was amazed by the invisible world he witnessed, but when he compared what he saw to processed EM photographs and scientific drawings, they didn’t resemble his “beautiful translucent animals.”

A Trip to Chon Tash

Ata-beyit Via Andrew Sullivan, Scott Horton in Harper's:

In 1980, Chingiz Aitmatov dedicated his essential novel, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years (И дольше века длится день), to his father, whom he barely remembered. In this moving and powerful work, he presents a core theme: the dangers a society faces when it forgets its past, being subject instead to a counterfeit narrative designed to suit some political purpose. Such a society, Aitmatov argues, faces a bleak future. Battling the Soviet censors at every step, Aitmatov was presenting a critical view of the legacy of Soviet rule in Central Asia and his native Kyrgyzstan. But the novel shows how heavily the fate of his father hung over Aitmatov. A leading intellectual and advocate of nationalist ideas, though not an overt opponent of the Communists, Törökul Aitmatov had been arrested, transported to Moscow, and charged with “bourgeois nationalist” tendencies in 1937, when Chingiz was nine years old. The family was informed that he had been sentenced to prison camp “without right of correspondence,” meaning his family had no right to know of his whereabouts or seek to communicate with him. They feared the worst, but they had no way of knowing. The lack of certainty about his fate was a torment.

Then, late in 1991, something extraordinary happened. After the Soviet Union cracked and shattered in the wake of a failed putsch against President Mikhail Gorbachev, a woman appeared in a Bishkek police station with a riveting tale. “Is it safe now?” she asked. “Is Communism finally over?” Her father had been the custodian of a site in the foothills south of the capital since the 1930s, she explained. He had been sworn to absolute secrecy by the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB. He had faithfully (and fearfully) kept that secret. But on his deathbed, he confided it to his daughter. “When the terror is over, when it is finally safe, tell them about it.” He told her, “the people must know.”

Tuesday Poem


They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia,
Opulent, flaunting.
Round gold
Flung out of a pale green stalk.
Round, ripe gold
Of maturity,
Meticulously frilled and flaming,
A fire-ball
of proclamation:
Fecundity decked in staring yellow
For all the world to see.
They brought a quilled, yellow dahlia,
To me who am barren
Shall I send it to you,
You who have taken with you
All I once possessed?

By Amy Lowell

from No More Masks; Anchor Books, 1973

There is no true war of ideas inside these countries — just a war

Shahid Javed Burki in Dawn:

ScreenHunter_02 Oct. 27 12.29 Let me quote at length from a recent article by the journalist Thomas L. Friedman who has written extensively on the developing world, especially on Muslim countries. ‘In places like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Pakistan you have violent religious extremist movements fighting with state security services. … And while the regimes in these countries are committed to crushing their extremists, they rarely take on their extremist ideas by offering progressive alternatives. And when these extremists aim elsewhere … these regimes are indifferent. That is why there is no true war of ideas inside these countries — just a war.’

This is a correct and insightful observation. ‘These states are not promoting an inclusive and tolerant interpretation of Islam that could be the foundation of people power,’ Friedman continues.

Pakistan, unlike the countries on Friedman’s list has had a ‘people power’ movement when the lawyers demonstrated that by acting with courage and resolution, they could bring about more than regime change. They could also force a strong executive to begin to show respect to the judiciary and its opinions. The same people power needs to be mobilised to rescue religion from the clutches of the extremists.

More here.

Naked Mole Rat Wins the War on Cancer

From Science:

Rat With its wrinkled skin and bucked teeth, the naked mole rat isn't going to win any beauty contests. But the burrowing, desert rodent is exceptional in another way: It doesn't get cancer. The naked mole rat's cells hate to be crowded, it turns out, so they stop growing before they can form tumors. The details could someday lead to a new strategy for treating cancer in people. In search of clues to aging, cell biologists Vera Gorbunova, Andrei Seluanov, and colleagues at the University of Rochester have been comparing rodents that vary in size and life span, from mice to beavers. The naked mole rat stands out because it's small yet can live more than 28 years–seven times as long as a house mouse. Resistance to cancer could be a major factor; whereas most laboratory mice and rats die from the disease, it has never been observed in naked mole rats.

Gorbunova's team looked at the mole rat's cells for an answer. Normal human and mouse cells will grow and divide in a petri dish until they mash tightly against one another in a single, dense layer–a mechanism known as “contact inhibition.” Naked mole rat cells are even more sensitive to their neighbors, the researchers found. The cells stop growing as soon as they touch. The strategy likely helps keep the rodents cancer-free, as contact inhibition fails in cancerous cells, causing them to pile up.

More here.

Cancers Can Vanish Without Treatment, but How?

Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Cancer Call it the arrow of cancer. Like the arrow of time, it was supposed to point in one direction. Cancers grew and worsened. But as a paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association noted last week, data from more than two decades of screening for breast and prostate cancer call that view into question. Besides finding tumors that would be lethal if left untreated, screening appears to be finding many small tumors that would not be a problem if they were left alone, undiscovered by screening. They were destined to stop growing on their own or shrink, or even, at least in the case of some breast cancers, disappear.

“The old view is that cancer is a linear process,” said Dr. Barnett Kramer, associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health. “A cell acquired a mutation, and little by little it acquired more and more mutations. Mutations are not supposed to revert spontaneously.” So, Dr. Kramer said, the image was “an arrow that moved in one direction.” But now, he added, it is becoming increasingly clear that cancers require more than mutations to progress. They need the cooperation of surrounding cells and even, he said, “the whole organism, the person,” whose immune system or hormone levels, for example, can squelch or fuel a tumor.

Cancer, Dr. Kramer said, is a dynamic process.

More here.

Iran Isn’t The Problem, Stupid

by Evert Cilliers

Godzilla_jpg Problems come in two types: real and BS. Your kid snorting cocaine, that's a real problem. Unless she's living in your house, having a mother-in-law is not a real problem: it's a BS problem.

BS problems can infect entire nations, because they roam wider than herpes. Take illegal immigration. Perfectly natural: we've got work for people, Mexicans come over to do it, Americans pay them for it: no problem. However, some Americans don't like those Mexicans and some politicians want the votes of those Americans, so they make illegal immigration a BS problem. You want a real problem? One out of four kids don't finish high school. Solving that would be change I can believe in.

Internationally, real and BS problems contend like Tokyo and Godzilla, too. Real: Americans die every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Ask any politician this Tuesday, and they'll give you a reason. Ask them next Tuesday, you'll get a different reason. Whatever: the American penchant for sticking our nose in other people's business is a hellhole of hubris that makes a Greek tragedy look like a sitcom. Removing our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan so they don't die there like lab rats would be a change I can believe in, Mr. Babyface Barack.

Now for some BS: Iran. The problem? Iran is supposedly thinking of making supposed nuclear bombs. It's no problem that America, Russia, Britain, France, Israel, India, China and Pakistan actually HAVE the bomb, it's only a problem that Iran MAY get it. Talk about the pot calling the kettle a 100% saturated black.

What would be the problem if Iran had the bomb? Israel would squeal like an insurance company faced with a major surgery claim. Big deal. Israel actually has from 200 to 400 nuclear bombs, but we don't seem to mind, even given their record of bombing everyone around them. Iran has a record of not bombing anyone around them for thousands of years, except once when Saddam Hussein attacked them. Israel having the bomb is way scarier than Iran getting it.

Read more »

‘War on Terror’ II

1256054448-large Julian Sanchez on the depressing reauthorization of the Patriot Act:

We know the rules by now, the strange conventions and stilted Kabuki scripts that govern our cartoon facsimile of a national security debate. The Obama administration makes vague, reassuring noises about constraining executive power and protecting civil liberties, but then merrily adopts whatever appalling policy George W. Bush put in place. Conservatives hit the panic button on the right-wing noise machine anyway, keeping the delicate ecosystem in balance by creating the false impression that something has changed. We've watched the formula play out with Guantánamo Bay, torture prosecutions and the invocation of “state secrets.” We appear to be on the verge of doing the same with national security surveillance.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee seemed to abandon hope of bringing any real change to the Patriot Act. A lopsided and depressingly bipartisan majority approved legislation that would reauthorize a series of expanded surveillance powers set to expire at the end of the year. Several senators had proposed that reauthorization be wedded to safeguards designed to protect the privacy of innocent Americans from indiscriminate data dragnets–but behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Obama administration ensured that even the most modest of these were stripped from the final bill now being sent to the full Senate.

Seeding bhasa

From Himal Southasian:

Kripa_mother_father_flat The interaction of English and the languages of Southasia is often lamented for having led to a deterioration of the latter. But focusing on this alone misses out on what has been accomplished through this linguistic collision.

The encounters between local languages and English the world over have generally given rise to two kinds of stories. One, spawned under colonialism, has been elegiac. It has mourned the encounter, in which English has come out a winner at the expense of the native tongue. The Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o represents this first type, having written extensively about how his native Gikuyu wilted under the onslaught of English. The linguistic battle, he warns, is a reflection of the wider struggle between traditional communities and the powerful colonial social engine.

The second kind of story also has a melancholy beginning, thanks to its colonial origin, but it also attempts to move further by recognising the interactions that take place between languages. The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe falls in this category. In his novel No Longer at Ease (1960), for instance, the linguistic battle (in this case between English and his native Ibo) is projected onto the domestic sphere in the form of a division between an instinctual, oral space and a rational, practical space – which Achebe further distinguishes as maternal and paternal, respectively:

More here.